library books locked up behind chained padlock
Should we lock up books that offend religious sensibilities?

You might not realize it, but spiritual warfare is going on in the hushed halls of libraries across the country. 

Last year, concerned parents began taking school libraries to task, with many successfully removing books they deemed objectionable and unsuitable for children's eyes from their school district’s library. In a scene straight out of Fahrenheit 451, some even went as far as burning the offending books.

Many of the targeted books contained portrayals of racism or featured LGBTQ themes. One particularly controversial episode involved the Pulitzer-winning Holocaust comic Maus, which was removed from library shelves for blink-and-you’ll-miss-it mouse nudity.

Perhaps emboldened by victories in some school districts, a small but vocal faith group in Texas is now going after their local public library, aiming to remove everything from educational texts about puberty to a Maurice Sendak book – all in the name of Jesus.

Cartoon panel from Maurice Sendak's In the Night Kitchen
The offending Maurice Sendak panel

Holy Shhhh

It started last year with an email from a Llano, Texas resident to a local judge. “It came to my attention a few weeks ago that pornographic filth has been discovered at the Llano library,” the message read.

The email was written by a woman named Bonnie Wallace, who attached an Excel spreadsheet of some 60 books that “can be checked out by our children and grandchildren” that she argued should be placed in an ‘adult’ section of the library, far away from innocent eyes.

The books were a hodgepodge selection of books with LGBTQ themes or characters, books focused on social justice, and even children’s picture books that show cartoon nudity.

“I’m not advocating for any book to be censored,” Wallace explained. Rather, the request was for controversial titles to be put in a separate area.

But there was a specific reason for this strategy, Wallace said: “It is the only way I can think of to prohibit censorship of books I do agree with, mainly the Bible, if more radicals come to town and want to use the fact that we censored these books against us.”

That email kicked off a battle between Wallace and Suzette Baker, head of one of the library branches. Baker argued that putting books “behind the counter,” as she recalled Wallace suggesting, was censorship.

Baker lost the fight. Under pressure from angry members of the community, Judge Roy Cunningham ordered Llano librarians to cease purchasing new books, and to remove any books with nudity – real or drawn – from library shelves.

A New Library Order

That's when things really fell apart. In January, the existing library board was dissolved and replaced with appointees that sympathize with locking away objectionable books.

Further irking critics of this crackdown on literature – few of the new board members even have library cards, and many say their actions are guided by their Christian faith. 

Members of the board reportedly consult with a local Christian school about books they’d like to see in the library, and pray over difficult questions. If God doesn’t urgently answer the prayer, the situation at hand might be tabled until He does.

In March, Suzette Baker was fired from her job as head librarian on the grounds of insubordination after continually refusing to pull books from library shelves.

Turning the Page

In less than a year, a fight almost singularly reserved for school libraries has spilled over into public libraries as well. According to the American Library Association, 37% of book challenges are now for books at public libraries.

And if the Christian group’s success in ridding the Llano library of ‘pornography’ is any indication, that number will only climb in the future.

Free speech advocates say it’s nothing less than state-sponsored censorship, and wonder what might come next. First, school libraries. Then, public libraries. What’s next? Your own personal shelf of books at home?

Should kids really have to sheepishly ask their librarian to grab a Maurice Sendak book from behind the counter, like they’re buying cigarettes at the mini-mart?

But for the group of Christians spearheading the mission, it’s nothing less than a divinely inspired mission to protect the innocence of children.

Should Books Be Saved?

As book banning has made its way into popular political discourse, the voices against this movement have become louder.

A recent interview with a pastor running for Governor of Michigan has been shared widely by critics, for example. The pastor said he believes the Bible should be taught in schools and wants pornographic books removed from shelves. The interviewer responded by citing some... inconvenient examples from the Bible, and the video went viral:

What do you think? Will restricting access to any book with sensitive material help protect children? Or is it okay for kids to be exposed to controversial ideas and content?

44 comments

  1. Jean's Avatar Jean

    If one is offended by a book found in the PUBLIC library, I suggest one not check it out. Likewise, notify the librarian that one's children do not have permission to check said book out. That's it. I don't agree with books like Mein Kampf, or The Communist Manifesto, but I am not afraid of them. They simply present ideas I reject. To ban them, or BURN them strikes me as many long strides down the path of fascism and repression, which I will fight to my last breath. What you allow in your private library is completely up to you. What is placed in the public library is completely up to the librarian and, I suppose, to a degree, the Library of Congress. I am an adult. Don't tell me what I can or cannot read! I am not in danger of becoming a vampire due to having read Bram Stoker's book. Nor am I in danger of becoming a werewolf, zombie, or any of the myriad "monsters" described in the many books I have read over the years. I didn't become a serial killer after reading Silence of the Lambs. I read The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx when I was in high school. While I appreciate the desire of someone with Marx's particular work ethic to have the rest of society share their "stuff" with him, I recognize the fallacy and hypocrisy inherent therein. I found that copy of Marx's book in my high school library. There were friends who advised against checking it out, telling me it would mark me as a dissident. Well, I was a dissident. I suppose I still am. I don't believe in censorship; I do believe in free speech; I also believe in protecting under age folks from ideas for which they don't yet have the intellectual maturity to process and determine what to keep and what to discard. So. Do what you want in your library at home or in your church. Leave public libraries, libraries at colleges and universities, and online libraries alone. Keep a better watch on your kids. The internet is no better babysitter than the television or the radio have ever been. Want your kids to have certain values? Live those values in front of the kids. Show them; don't just preach it, walk it. THAT'S how you protect them from all those really bad, bad ideas that scare you so much. Insulate them with knowledge, not ignorance. (You may have noticed that ignorance never stopped anyone from getting pregnant...) And stop being afraid of letters on a page. It's the shadows in the heart you should really be concerned about.

    1. Deacon Michael's Avatar Deacon Michael

      I most certainly agree with your sharing. For we must look beyond what was posted. What is indeed the fact here and what can be done in reference to protecting children's values! You said it!

      1. Jeffrey Stoecker's Avatar Jeffrey Stoecker

        "Children's values" ???

  1. Douglas Robert Spindler's Avatar Douglas Robert Spindler

    "Pornographic Filth" needs to be kept in the Church where it belongs.

    In California known child molesting priest just killed someone with DUI driving. Sad that God killed the innocent pedestrian and not the child molesting, alcoholic, murdering priest. That's messed up.

    1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

      If that priest would have had his eyes on the road, instead of lustfully staring at and intensely fantasizing about that pedestrian while profusely salivating (before and after the kill), he never would have plowed him down. I heard that pedestrian was on his way to that priest's church, to confess his sins to that priest. And there's no telling what that might have lead to, especially if the pedestrian had been a gay altar boy, still searching for the right Father daddy.

    2. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

      I guess if they cleaned those porn mags with sanitary wipes they wouldn't be filthy anymore. Then they'd be happy to pass them out at church before services, so the congregants would be full of the spirit...of ecstasy when the service began.

  1. Frank Peter Guarino's Avatar Frank Peter Guarino

    The Bible contains stories,not only of sex and incest but also of murder, miracles, forgiveness, defense and more. I believe that the Bible should be allowed in public schools but shouldn't be necessarily kept next to books such as Tupac's autobiography. I know that the Dewy Decimal System was somehow found to be racist BUT it was also a good way to sort books. A repeated question of whether to file The Holy Bible as fiction or non-fiction is really the question for me as I believe it has both.

    1. Krystina S.'s Avatar Krystina S.

      We can use LC (Library of Congress) like the grownups do in every library, if you're worried about sorting books. They're the same books. There is a separate section for religion, BL- , which includes Christianity. The Bible will be found there. And the Q'oran. And the Bhagavad Gita. Some interesting tantric stuff there too!! Sex Worship is found at BL 460. Did you know that children are naked under their clothes? And that their bodies are not shameful, especially shouldn't be to each other? GET THINE HEADS OUT OF THE GUTTER, Fake Christians!!! We all have bodies. The naked body is not necessarily to do with SEX unless THAT IS YOUR PROBLEM. Shame on y'all Christofascists. I see how everything you do is just projection. You can't see or think of a human body without being... tittilated? OY VEY!

      1. Frank Peter Guarino's Avatar Frank Peter Guarino

        The responsibility of teaching children about their bodies pre-4th grade should be of the parent. Not of the schools and especially of the curriculum. Look how much the school systems of this country are failing our kids in STEM alone. We shouldn't be adding more responsibilities when the primary education is eroded already.

    2. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

      Frank, it might be better to keep those bibles on a shelf next to books by and biographies of famous people like Truman Capote, for example. Or maybe even Walt Whitman.

  1. Matthew Mastrogiovanni's Avatar Matthew Mastrogiovanni

    There is no greater source of smut and murder than the Bible.

  1. Marius Gabriel Burja's Avatar Marius Gabriel Burja

    I think a library can have more then one room. There should definitely be an adult life library separate room away from children. Especially unsupervised minors.

    1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

      They ought to have a bed in that adult room too, and show movies, like at some of the adult parties we've all been to. However, if there's a buffet in that room, don't eat the chili dipped sausages.

    2. Reverend Kurt's Avatar Reverend Kurt

      you have it the wrong way around, sure there should be a separate room for adults. Children see nudity etc as a natural part of life, it is not until puberty when hormones develop, or later that any interest/ issue in Porn comes to light. So segregate these so called pubescent adults, keep them away from children.

      1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

        Me and the other little juvenile delinquents in the good middle class neighborhood that we grew up in were looking at porn mags when I was eight years old. And I'm talking numerous times! Only one of the kids was older than me, and he was the only one of us who wasn't going to Catholic school, but his Aunt Maryanne was a nun, and the principal of the Catholic school that some of us were students at. And I remember her paddle well.

  1. William Dusenberry's Avatar William Dusenberry

    In the Christian/Hebrew book of “Hebrew/Christian mythology (AKA, the King James Version of the Christian/Hebrew Bible) the Hebrew God clearly told the first human being (some 6000 years ago) that Adam should not eat from the apple tree — because the apple represented the use of human reasoning, which after the Hebrew God arranged for himself to have a son (who became the first Christian) and because reason was akin to using the scientific method, understanding science became a mortal sin against the Holy Ghost.

    Before the Hebrew God converted to Christianity (because he fathered a Christian Son) the Hebrew God arranged for all human males to get sexually aroused by the sight of human females — so it was the Hebrew God who created pornography.

    Therefore, because the GOP has now decided to attack the Christian God — because the GOP has determined that pornography is now a sin against the Holy Ghost — as former President Jimmy Carter admitted (while he was president) that he had lusted in his heart for females who were not his wife — lusting is as associated with pornography — just as being a fascist is a major component of MAGA cultism.

    The main reason DJT got the MAGA vote — was because he (unlike Jimmy Carter) didn’t just “lust in his heart” — he lusted with what his Christian God provided him with — so that he could be “fruitful and multiply.”

    PS; mankind used pornography thousands of years before the Hebrew Bible was written by “who knows who” — so if one wants a pornographic-free Bible — the Thomas Jefferson Bible fits the bill.

  1. Douglas Robert Spindler's Avatar Douglas Robert Spindler

    The Bible is filled with "Pornographic Filth". Ezekiel 23:20.

    There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.

    This is the sort of stuff Christians want taught in public schools.

    1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

      Douglas, it's too bad they don't have full color pictures describing all that stuff, in the bible.

      1. Douglas Robert Spindler's Avatar Douglas Robert Spindler

        The full color pictures of the phonography can be found in the church in the form of stained glass windows, paintings and statues.

  1. Rev. John Bolen's Avatar Rev. John Bolen

    There are many books in public libraries that are offensive to different people for different reasons . If a person doesn't like the title or content of a book , don't read it , likewise don't let your children read it . I have never been a supporter of book burnings . Just because a person does not like something , it does not give them the right to destroy it or deprive others of the opportunity to decide for themselves .

    1. ether_ore's Avatar ether_ore

      The only question I have about your post, is this. Suppose a legal minor desires to read a book, the message (or advertised message) of which their legal guardian has disagreement. At what point does the minor’s freedom overrule their guardian’s supposed superior “intellectual maturity to process and determine what to keep and discard?”

      While you have read the “Communist Manifesto,” I am certain that more people who take issue with it do so without ever having read it. The whole problem we have now is that people don’t read ENOUGH, rather than they read the wrong things. I agree that there are books that are not age appropriate, but I do not agree that there are many subjects which are not age appropriate. Personally, I think that any request to ban any book be prefaced with a full on book report about the book, written objectively just like we had to do in school, before they can make their request.

      I would also rather see a parent or guardian read something with their kid and discuss it rather than lock it away from them. Unfortunately, the last thing religion desires is an open mind.

      1. Rev. John Bolen's Avatar Rev. John Bolen

        I don't understand what you mean by " legal minor " but I do agree with what you are saying .

  1. brian ham's Avatar brian ham

    Sounds just like the brown shirts in Germany just before world war 2

  1. Michael K. Mac Munn's Avatar Michael K. Mac Munn

    Missing the forest for the trees, none of this is about protecting children it's about control.

  1. Nicholas J Page's Avatar Nicholas J Page

    Pornographic material should not be seen in public It should be only available to consenting adults with proof of I'd.

    1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

      I never look at filthy pornography!!! Most people must not be nearly as imaginative as me. However, I'll never share my fantasies. Hark! What's that I hear? It sounds like Phil Collins singing Imaginary Lover.

  1. Rev Dr N's Avatar Rev Dr N

    Of course I am very much against anything of this nature but... there are people that want to have porn in their lives so, create another room or library just for those that do.

    1. Krystina S.'s Avatar Krystina S.

      Have you ever read Maurice Sendak? He writes and illustrates books for preschoolers. Who do not - should not!!! - have any sense that their bodies are shameful or evil or sexual. They are just themselves. God gave bodies to us all.

      1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

        Which God, and what evidence do you have to support that claim of yours that any deity gave us bodies? Is it just an indoctrinated belief?

        🦁❤️

    2. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

      Dr. No, the only thing I know about that word "Ofcourse" is "A horse is a horse, ofcourse ofcourse". And if you don't believe me you can take it up with Wilbur, after you snap back from that James Bond movie.

  1. Tai Mamoe's Avatar Tai Mamoe

    If the library starts censoring one thing then they're going to start censoring political speech or a favorite author or topic. Reverend Tai Mamoe

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    Ehrman, I hope you don't believe everything you think, or wrote in the Desiderata.

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    Don't look at me that way. I just write these glorious comments. I'm not the ones who post them. And if you think this makes me a bestselling author, you should see the ones that didn't get posted. Cheers!

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    Have y'all noticed how a lot of ministers on this blog try to make it sound like they're christian saints?

  1. ether_ore's Avatar ether_ore

    Comment removed by user.

  1. Michael Barton's Avatar Michael Barton

    The Bible would obviously be in a different category as other books that talk about sex because the Bible is a religious book that can be thought of as a historical record. Other books that have been written by perverts shouldn't be in the library, unless they have some kind of historical significance. Maybe keep Madonna's book since she was at one point a human. But anything else that is just in there to brainwash little kids should not be included.

    It should be very easy for folks to decide which books should stay and which should go.

    It's shocking that so many on this website have no love for religion.

    Why bother if you hate God?

  1. Jeffrey Stoecker's Avatar Jeffrey Stoecker

    Library censorship leads to self-censorship. If there are lists of books that have to be locked away from view, then a visible copy of any of those books seen in 1080P over someone's shoulder when they're video conferencing, or doing an interview, will be used against them -- especially in a political setting. And that's the actual goal, isn't it? -- self censorship. That's more vile than the contents of any book. Raise children to be strong in mind and spirit, and you don't have to fear any book they may pick up.

  1. Alexander Clarke's Avatar Alexander Clarke

    Christians are the new American Taliban

  1. Tabitha's Avatar Tabitha

    Gilead is nigh. Prepare because that is where the nutjob half of the country is fighting to take us

    1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

      You are so right, Tabitha, but I'll be amazed if Biden sees out his full term, along with his she/her/he/him/they/them/it crew. Weird......right?🤷🏼

      🦁♥️

  1. John Richard Schlank's Avatar John Richard Schlank

    Christian groups don’t want the precious darlings ruined by seeing a book they don’t like. They want librarians to hide away books they find objectionable rather than have the books removed from the library because they don’t want to be accused of censorship. It seems to me that books aren’t the problem. The problem is the parents who haven’t taught their children moral and ethical values and/or have no control over their children.

    How about the book that has this story in it. A virgin is raped by an entire village of men. Her family, who live in a nearby village want revenge and to punish these men. They use God’s name to incapacitate all the men in the village while the virgin’s family castrates them. Do they want to ban the book with this story? The story is in Genesis. Will they want to ban the Bible too?

  1. Rev Ned's Avatar Rev Ned

    The favorite hymn of a lot of fundamentalist “Christian” religions goes, “🎼 Jesus loves me but, He can’t stand you.”

  1. Alexander Clarke's Avatar Alexander Clarke

    Christians are the new Taliban.

  1. David Bartlett's Avatar David Bartlett

    Anyone who can't be bothered with going through the trouble of obtaining a library card let alone read any books have no business making the decisions regarding the content of said library.

    That said, I don't think there is anything wrong with giving access based on age appropriateness. But prohibiting access based on religious vies is unreasonable. It should be based on the child's ability to understand and appreciate the content and that varies from child to child. I read 1984 and Animal Farm at 8 and understood every word. At ten I read Dante's Divine Comedy and that was only difficult in that I had to look up all the historical references and read up on the various political events Dante alludes to, to fully understand him. So that took all of July that year. My neighbor's 15 year old, of average intellect, hasn't graduated from comic books.

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